Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Packing light: a few good reasons

This beautiful set of Tumi luggage would hold my entire wardrobe...


Just back in Chicago from a quick and delightful three days in New York City, and I've been reminded of a few very good reasons for packing in a simple and SMALL manner:

  1. You can take mass transit - a gigantic saver of time and money
  2. When you DO take mass transit, you don't hog all of the seats!  Yesterday, coming into the city on the "El", there were literally dozens of people who needed one seat for their bags and one seat for their person.  This does NOT make you popular with the locals...
  3. Walking long distances is easier - both in the airport, and in town.  You can't necessarily assume that a taxi will be able to drop you right at the front door of your hotel; construction and emergency situations can force you to walk fairly considerable distances.  Wheels help, but it's easier not to be the person constantly navigating to the ramp cut-outs on each curb.  Especially during or after a tremendous thunderstorm.
  4. Taxi queuing in the rain, at the airport.  Being able to hold your bags up off of the ground keeps everything dry and clean.  If you're forced to roll, you're sometimes forced to slosh about.
  5. The overhead bin issue.  I can toss my bag into the overhead bin with one hand.  There's no possible question that the door won't close, or that I have to shove to get the bag in, or that I have to ask someone to lift my bag for me.
And the most compelling, completely convincing reason:

The airline "bump" factor.  True story:  belovedest and I were once in Charles De Gaulle airport, preparing to return to Chicago, and the flight was catastrophically over-sold.  Because we had our bags IN HAND and had not checked them, we were given enough CASH to get a hotel room overnight, take the train back into Paris, and have another super-excellent dinner.  And our flights the next day were better times and no connections.  AND we still had a bit of cash left over after all of that.

I know some of you will never be convinced; I see you ever time I travel, and I don't envy the work you're doing...

29 comments:

  1. This is such a great post! What would you recommend in terms of a good travel bag these days? I ask having just returned from a trip with too much luggage and a strong desire to reform:)

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  2. Bravo!!! I usually travel in a 22" suitcase (a bit to large for some European airlines for carry on)-- for one week or four weeks. Your blog has been a tremendous help! Made a bad mistake in January on a trip to (cold, cold, cold) China. Took TWO 22" suitcases. Made travel from Tianjin to Beijing on the high speed train very uncomfortable. Never again. One suitcase -- packed lightly!

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  3. We stick to one bag each and--because I am a weakling--Mr FS carries both. There are very few bargains--seems like everything costs the same no matter where you are, so there goes that excuse!

    We use the convertible bags--LLBean has them, so does Rick Steves--that can be handheld or work as backpacks.

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  4. W-a-a-y back in 1986 I converted to a one carry-on lightweight tote bag for all travel -- and no wheels. In 1985, I took a mostly escorted tour of Japan and Hong Kong which allowed one large-ish bag and one small carry-on. All was fine except for the airports and a few other points of transfer!! Never again! In 1986 I spent 2 weeks in the UK with just ONE lightweight tote bag (with an extra small fold-up bag inside for goodies acquired along the way). My wardrobe was red, black and gray -- in fact, what is now known as a capsule wardrobe. I had to depart after attending a conference in MN, flying via Chicago, so I had a few more clothing items than I would have otherwise because of the conference -- nothing like starting your vacation with soiled clothes in the bag! I did one laundry along the way, but otherwise got along with very few clothes, even for late autumn. I now have a convertible bag (with hidden back straps) that works even better for getting around.

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  5. Janice: what did you take to NYC?

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  6. Janice, I love to fantasize about being able to toss a bag in the overhead bin of an airplane with one hand! I've started checking my carry-on bag just because I hate all the greedy, stressful competition for luggage-storage space so much. My bargain airfare tickets always seem to consign me to last-group-boarding status--and, then, I can just forget there being space left to store anything without cramming or rearrangement or roaming the aisle fornlornly looking for a niche. Unless, my carry-on will fit under my seat(and nothing will if I choose an aisle seat!), I don't consider it carry-on.

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  7. I regret to say it's been too long since I've traveled as frequently as you do, and to far-flung places; however, when I did, on one particularly long trip to Europe, I became so weary of lugging around a huge suitcase that I began to leave (clean) items for hotel maids along with my gratuity.

    I'm beginning to see for myself, over time, that I need certain boundaries for comfort. Sometimes I hate my small house, but I feel more secure in it, knowing where everything is, being able to clean it myself. I've gone from being bohemian and everything being sort of unrestricted and routine-less to realizing I need some limits and structure. I know that's a general statement, but it comes around also to the ridiculous amount of STUFF, i.e. stress of too many clothes and, well, too much of everything. "Traveling light" can apply to so many things, even in our minds, reducing stress, putting an end to over-commitment. I think too many of us live with just too much glut; excess. It suffocates us. It takes a while to clean up, downsize, pull together what's important, not just in the closet, but in our lives and how we want to live. Maybe a lot of it just comes with maturity (I'm a slow learner). There's just this strong thing inside of me to need to get organized, once and for all, with paperwork, furnishings, closets...and, yes, how I travel, when that day comes again. It doesn't seem to work for us to be so bogged down.

    I just watched again, the movie by Sofia Coppola called "Marie Antoinette" and, although fictional, it's not difficult to see how royalty in the French court in those times were strangled by "excess." Marie Antoinette had come from the Austrian court which was apparently more "loose" in terms of formal dress, enjoying more natural gardens and wildlife. She would have the dressmakers create more simple, "peasant-style" garments for being outdoors and in the flowers and away from the stifled life of cumbersome gowns and too many people.

    Anyway, I'm off-subject, but your post here dovetails to the recent themes of your blog, and I'm hearing it and agreeing, trying hardest to employ, about pulling it all together, making things simpler for ourselves. I think among the most interesting comments from your readers is how relieved they are...how the stress drops off...to be able to work at a simplified wardrobe and open the closet doors to a workable arrangement of clothing, for any occasion, be at work, at home, or travel. So, thanks for that; truly thanks.

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  8. Amen! I carry on, always, for all the reasons you've cataloged.

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  9. I don't fly very often, but I do travel by train a lot. I used to be completely overloaded with my handbag, gigantic suitcase, laptop bag plus sometimes a carry-on. That was hell, so over the years I learnt to pack light and bring only what's necessary for the stay. Of course I still get carried on sometimes, but mostly travelling is sooooo much easier when you go minimalistic!

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  10. Last time I travelled, I packed light and coordinated thanks to your sage advice only to spill onto one out two pairs of trousers. Since everything went with everything, swapping out was easily done, and I was able to remove the stain to all but most close inspection.

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  11. Amen!! Love the story about Charles de Gaulle airport and your extra night in Paris!

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  12. Bravo Janice! And Vicki - you're spot on too, about travelling light through life.
    I have just bought a wheel-less carry-on bag, like a sports bag only pretty, and it's sooooo light. I'll use it for anything up to a week away. Keeping it light enough for tossing onto the overhead rack with one hand is the next challenge.
    I reckon doing without wheels (and associated frame) can save up to a kilo, depending on the bag. Bags that can also be backpacks are good from this point of view too. But the main thing - we are all agreed here - is to Take Less Stuff.

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  13. I've limited myself to one small carry on bag for as long as I can remember. Most of my travel in recent years has been work related, so this is a challenge. In addition to my laptop and related documents and paraphernalia, I need to pack a week or more of professional business wear. Plus, of course, casual clothes, pjs, etc. Business clothes take up a lot of suitcase space and I can't wear the same suit every day. I seem to spend a lot of time washing out blouses and undies in the hotel sink. :(

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    1. I used to think I couldn't wear the same suit every day - until I noticed my male colleagues doing exactly that with a change of shirt and tie. I have since invested in some quality suit separates - pencil skirt, trousers and jacket - in a dark charcoal. These three pieces can easily get me through a week of meetings. I add a couple of cashmere twinsets, a couple of oxford shirts, a silky blouse or two, some scarves and minimal jewelry (pearl studs, gold hoops, maybe a necklace and bracelet) and I'm good to go. I can wear all of my tops with the suit pieces or with the pair of jeans or trousers that I wear on the plane. Sometimes I might throw in a jersey dress (which can be worn with the cardigans from the twinsets or with the suit jacket). One pair of business pumps and one pair of comfy flats/boots/sandals depending on the weather.

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  14. I have such infinite respect for light travelers. I have to ask, what do you when you spill something? How do you launder while traveling? I ask this as a professional klutz....having spent most if this simmer on the road, I found myself trying to wash my one white t shirt in a hotel bathtub with shampoo, with only limited success. So, with the fear of wearnf my coffee or wine, I overpsck.

    Maybe I just need one of those bibs with sleeves that toddlers wear...do you think that would be a fashion faux pas?

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    1. Two words: embrace black. And then spill to your heart's content. That's a tip from one klutz to another. :)

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    2. Use the hotel's laundry service for those emergencies. It is less costly than checked bag fees or overweight checked luggage fees.

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    3. Bring Shout wipes or a Tide-to-Go pen. And bring more than one white t-shirt! T-shirts take up so little space that you can bring two or three.

      I also keep in mind that if I were to completely ruin something, I could always buy something at the destination to replace it. Unless you are going to the wilderness or have absolutely no time or money for shopping--but whether you are going to a small town or big city, they will have white t-shirts, and maybe you will even find something unique that will serve as a souvenir as well as part of your wardrobe.

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  15. I packed for eight days in Oxford last January in a carry on bag. I was well dressed and yes, the whole experience was MUCH easier.

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  16. Glad you had a wonderful trip! I always try to avoid checking any bags. I find it incredibly rude when people think it is OK to take up 2-4 seats on the El for themselves and their luggage. Do you - or anyone - have any good recommendations for a great/compact/efficient rolling carryon? I have an older Samsonite that is now considered too big by some airlines... Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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  17. Try Briggs and Riley (http://www.briggs-riley.com); I upgraded about four months ago and I'm loving it. They are expensive but come with a lifetime guarantee so, theoretically, if you choose the right case for you first up then you should never have to buy again.

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  18. Unless you need wheels for some reason, try to find a bag without them. I seldom carry more that 15 lbs. of luggage (bag and contents) and I limit myself to one small lightweight convertible carry-on. I travel for 2 weeks on business in China and had to bring a lot of gifts for various dignitaries and meetings -- and got a lot of gifts in return. I mailed my gifts home along the way. And I had a small, Vivienne Files-type wardrobe which worked well because I was visiting several cities. I used the hotel laundry (cheap!!) and also washed out some items in my hotel room when I was staying more than one night. It is so much less stressful to travel without a lot of heavy luggage or multiple pieces. Try Ebags, LL Bean, and Rick Steves for lightweight travel bags.

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  19. I use a LeSportsac duffel (the large weekender; they also make a medium if you pack very light, and an extra-large if you don't) when I travel. The key is that the bag itself is whisper light. The paradox of rolling bags is that the rolling mechanism and handle make the bags so heavy that you pretty much need to plan on rolling the bag rather than carrying it. In other words, the wheels create the very problem that they solve!

    Having a lightweight bag that you can carry on your shoulder means you can take stairs instead of waiting in line for escalators and elevators, you can maneuver crowds more easily, and boarding planes, trains and buses is a breeze. I will never go back to a rollaboard.

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  20. Thanks for all the great suggestions - I really appreciate it!

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  21. Hi Janice. Yes an interesting lesson for me was 6 weeks in Nth America and Europe and how a very small wardrobe was perfectly ok! I liked your comments about 'emergencies' etc - I travel alone and always feel more comfortable that if I had to move 'fast' for some reason in a strange situation I could do so - that means comfy walkable shoes, hands free etc etc - crazy hey! Anyhow, I have also learnt from the wonderful comments here as if I am going to just one destination, say for a work conference, I take a large suitcase with a tiny corner of things, nearly everything including laptop, work documents etc in carry on in case main bag gets lost in transit and have to show to a meeting first up - more crazy huh! I think I think I will do some enormous shop when I am away but as someone just said, really the same stuff is nearly everywhere in the world so I dont really need to buy 50 tshirts for my kids every trip LOL! It must be a carry over from my first ever big international trip where I bought sooo much for my kids including this supposedly unique teddy bear in NY and lugged it as carry on to 5 destinations. At the end of a 40 hour flight, a squillion special security checks (with jet lag and tears a few times I admit!), when I got to immigration at home the woman said oh yes that store has just opened here!!!!!!! Hope that gives you a laugh - so pack light! Sometimes I take clothes that are to be replaced and just leave them at the bin in the hotel as well - I usually plan this over a few months and hang on to clothes that would otherwise be leaving my closet... that works as well!

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  22. Timely post. I am pretty good at packing light, but would have been interested to see what kind of bag you use for such a trip - I use a Longchamp bag. However, going away for 5 weeks to Europe and needing to take walking boots (doing a trek) so would love some guidance on what bag to take and what to pack.

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  23. Yes,yes and yes! I agree with everything! For weekend trips, I use one of my Longchamp bags and pack a smaller purse. If I'm going to be gone for a week-4 weeks, I use my Delsey carry-on duffle and pack one of my Longchamp bags in a side compartment just in case.

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  24. Yeah, I do have to admit that I normally end up having the three options conversation; leave stuff behind, find room in your cabin baggage or pay for excess baggage. But just recently, I've been forced to... well, if not to travel light, then certainly to travel lighter than I have been. And ironically enough, the reason for this is because I treated myself to a rather bulky piece of equipment, namely a DSLR. Needless to say, I don't much fancy trusting it to the hold, so a camera case is necessary. I went for a backpack one, so that constitutes my cabin baggage.

    And it really doesn't take kindly to having stuff rammed into it. There's only just enough space for my iPod and the bits and bobs that I don't want to be without on the plane, nothing more. It's amazing how disciplined you get when you no longer have any options.

    I should probably stop budgeting for the potential of excess baggage on the way home too. I'm guessing that if I don't budget for it, I'll be far less inclined to risk it.

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